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Brewing up a Storm: Exploring the Beers of Heart of the North Brewery

Ladysmith, Wisconsin

 

Crusin’ Rating: A

Booze Rating: C-

 

Happy 2024!

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- The Heart of the North Brewery

We are checking out Wisconsin’s smallest licensed brewery- brewing a mere 1/2 barrel at a time. Heart of the North Brewing Company is located in Ladysmith, Wisconsin.  Opening in 2019, Heart of the North was the brainchild of Cliff Taylor and his son.  It’s not just the size of this brewery that caught our eye,  Heart of the North has one of the most unique buildings that we have ever been to - one of only 3 such spaces in the country!  You see, Heart of the North is located inside a fully functioning greenhouse.  Cliff - in what I admit may be a stroke of genius - wanted somewhere for wayward partners to congregate while their wives shopped for plants.  And what do husbands gravitate toward on a weekend?  How about a TV, food, and some cold beer!


Now, I knew next to nothing about this brewery when we decided to go there.  I saw a picture of a greenhouse, folks in coats, and some beer.  I really thought we were in for an out-door only experience so Hannah and I bundled up on a wet, snowy afternoon - fully prepared for this to be a summer-only spot (despite the listed hours).  I didn’t have my hopes high, but I knew that if this spot was open and was actually in a greenhouse that it would probably be a very unique vibe and near one-of-a-kind experience and I was thrilled when we stepped out of the cold and wet inside Heart of the North.  



Natural light - something we often value highly - especially so on gloomy winter days - when we are examining the feel and vibe of a space - reigns supreme here.  Again, even walking up to the brewery - we saw that it was attached to a garden center:  Maybe it was it’s own space and you could walk to the garden center; maybe you get your beer and you can sit in the garden center for extra seating when its warm; or maybe they share a roof but it’s absolutely freezing inside - since you know, it’s a greenhouse.  Never did I expect what we got.  


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- The Heart of the North Brewery

Heart of the North is a brewery directly inside of a greenhouse.  That’s right.  You walk into the greenhouse to be greeted by a full “U”-shaped, live edge wood bar, complete with a hanging chalkboard displaying cocktail specials and a large indoor heater keeping it quite comfortable - about as comfortable as you can get in a greenhouse as snow is accumulating on your windshield outside.  There’s plants everywhere, metal-worked dragon statues and Viking axes, and so much light pouring in you’d think you walked into an event at the Mitchell Park Domes out in Milwaukee.  It’s not often that Hannah and I stop and sort of soak up a space with a little (or a lot) of wonderment and this one really did it for us.  The tables and chairs matching the bar fully existing in this little space - while maybe a little jarring for some - for us, just fit.  Such an absolutely outstanding idea and it was great to see it executed so well.


While Hannah’s mind immediately went to how fantastic the space would be for weddings, I pointed out a sign that announced what she was thinking.  I could see the wheels in her head turning, as I have seen so many time before, as she went over layout options in her head and started counting how many could fit in such a space.  For my part, I began to creep toward the bar, taking note that this was a spot serving up cocktails, wine, soda and beer.  The scent of pizza wafted through the air and I was surprised, again, at how much was going all in this greenhouse.  


There was tons of seating, a lot of it at fold-out tables, but with a small amount of some wooden bar tables.  Although the brewery was geared towards husbands while their partners shopped, during "Widows Weekend" it was filled with plenty of ladies sipping wine and bloodies.  There was a small swag rack, indoor bathrooms, and a cordial bartender who was more than happy to answer any questions we wanted.  We found out that they do their own wood fire pizzas and that they source cheese and meats locally.  



I always say we aren’t a food blog, but the pizza here was solid, so much so that it would be a viable spot for lunch while in Ladysmith on its own merit and I really had no complaints since Hannah and I were able to pick and choose a custom pizza that made us both happy.  It was no frills, and solid - plus, an unexpected little treat of pork burnt ends as an appetizer.  No complaints here for the food, and it was a nice change of the usually fried menus of a lot of the taverns we came across.


I’m going to reiterate again that we loved the space but Hannah - ever chilly.  Wished they would have had blankets to borrow, maybe some heated bathrooms (or just more heated?) and the both of us agreed that it would be awesome if there was a way to build a hearth and fireplace to fit with the Viking theme - admittedly though I don’t know how it would work with a greenhouse.  Our bartender informed us that this was the last weekend before they put up the insulated walls, so that also might play into the space being overall a little warmer as it starts to get cooler out.  For my money, it adds to the indoor-outdoor thing they have going on - eating food with plenty of sunlight while inside but still wearing a light coat.  It would be interesting though to see if it becomes wildly humid during the summer months and I would love to go back to experience what that’s like!


But how is the beer?


The flights come in a wooden axe - of course - I opted to taste five:


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- The Heart of the North Brewery

Black Sails (5.6% ABV) -  You know how I kind of feel about porters as a beer.  Smelling of roasted coffee, I didn’t find this one quite as robust or nutty as it smelled.  I was expecting a bolder flavor and was hoping to get even a little chocolate.  This one wasn’t unlike some crispy coffee bean husks.  Serviceable.


Amberbolic (5.8% ABV) - This amber/red ale featured low clarity and high carbonation.  With an aroma of crusty bread and dry grains.  I didn’t pick up on any fruitiness or new world hop aromas - expecting this to be an American Amber but it may be a sort of hybrid.  I did pick up some earthy, fruitiness and lots of malt, some hop character but a dry finish for sure.  I found this beer to be closer to a mix of American Amber and International Amber styles, rather than any sort of mix of American Amber and Irish Red - for those of you nerdy-enough to be paying close attention!


Oktoberfest (5.0% ABV) - I’ve touched on this before, but I believe this beer was listed as an Oktoberfest Lager. Rather than just the standard “Oktoberfest” Title you see so often.  (Oktoberfest aka Marzen is a lager - an amber lager - whereas a Festier is a pale lager, but I’m not going to dive too far into detail there).

With a Marzen, I’d be looking for some bread or toast on the nose and a deep malty character that is fairly complex when tasting.  Here, there was some moderate malt initially that gave the impression of sweetness, and then this crispness with a little bit of floral hop flavor, almost making me think of some old world Pils hops.  So, I was initially a little confused but then quickly remembered that the waters are a little muddy.  You see, most beer brewed in Germany for Oktoberfest is Festbier - specifically Oktoberfestbier - which is a protected name for beer brewed in Germany, Munich specifically - by large breweries for Oktoberfest.  But a Festbier can also be for other fests outside of October.  Oktoberfest, traditionally, was a Marzen.  In the US, there aren’t really hard and fast guidelines of what can be called an Oktoberfest so it can be either a Marzen or a Festbier - and it’s not even limited to those styles.  So it can all get a little confusing.

That aside, I believe this was a Festbier after all said and done, and, after reminding myself that I should not have expected a Marzen, found this to be serviceable for the style!


Chasing Dragons IPA (6.4% ABV) - This IPA featured medium-high clarity, high carbonation, and a long-lingering head. A little sweet candied citrus on the nose, and a little resiny-sweetness when tasting with low notes of mango and tropical fruit that moves into orange oils and finishes with strong pine notes and medium-high bitterness.  I found this IPA to be a little lacking in the flavor category and I wanted it to be a lot bolder, with more pronounced notes of the hops and a little bit more complexity but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a serviceable IPA.


Roberto (4.5% ABV) - This Czech Pilsner,  featuring high/brilliant clarify was a warm gold.  With a little corn sweetness on the nose and low floral hops, I tasted slightly sweet malt and almost got a slightly toasty flavor, which was welcome but I really missed out on that sort of spice character you get from Saaz hops, a hallmark of the style.  I also thought the bitterness here bordered on harsh which was a little bit too much for the style.  I think this beer could use a little refining.


On the whole, this is some small batch brewing and there could very well be variation between batches of the same kind of beer.  I found all of the beer to be serviceable, but I think that with some tweaking they could be good.  This is one of those spots I would go back to, in the hopes that the beers get a little more refined as time goes on and the brewer comes into their own.   I can say that, it’s a far drive from Madison, and even farther from Milwaukee.  If you are heading up to make a pilgrimage to Leinenkugels, have family around Chippewa falls, or are in the area, it’s definitely worth an hour drive, just as a unique little spot for a drink and a pizza.  


I know Hannah and I will most likely be back at some point, even if we have to go a little out of the way,  during a future review trip and I’m hoping we get to check out the space during some warmer weather.  Really though, as far as being stuck inside for winter, I can’t think of many other places that are this unique!  Heck, it might even make a fantastic half-day trip if you’re within two hours, since there’s only three greenhouse breweries in the nation.


Until next time, keep on crusin’, don’t stop boozin’!


To learn more about Heart of the North please visit them on Facebook: @HeartOfTheNorthBrewingCo

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